[Techie Tuesday] Meet Daisy Chittilapilly of Cisco whose team built a war room for Ministry of Health to identify COVID-19 hotspots

In this week’s Techie Tuesday, we profile Daisy Chittilapilly, MD, Digital Transformation, Cisco India and SAARC, and her journey in tech.
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Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg put it very succinctly when she said, “The word ‘female,’ when inserted in front of something, is always with a note of surprise. Female COO, female pilot, female surgeon — as if the gender implies surprise … one day there won’t be female leaders. There will just be leaders.”

Until then, we will look up to women leaders as inspirations as we move forward to a world where there will be no gender distinctions even in technology.

Everywhere across the world, women are doing just that – proving themselves in domains usually considered a man’s, and excelling at it.

Bengaluru-based Daisy Chittilapilly is one such example. She grew up in Thiruvananthapuram, and went to a girls-only school. “It was very liberating to be in an environment that didn't assign gender-specific roles, and one could aspire to be anything one wanted to be. Those formative years helped when I went to engineering college, at a time when women were still in the minority. I always had a scientific temperament, so the path into STEM was a given,” she recalls.

After completing her BTech from the College of Engineering in Thiruvananthapuram, she started her career in Wipro in frontline sales.

“Back then, there were fewer women in the field, and that was a learning curve all on its own. I always say Wipro is my career alma mater; my experiences and exposure there set me up nicely for my journey at Cisco,” she says.

Daisy has been with Cisco for the past 16 years, leading positions across sales management in Enterprise and Commercial businesses and Strategy and Operations.

She was instrumental in shaping its global business with Indian IT service providers and of leading the Cisco India and SAARC partner organisation, where her team and she focused on building new programs that helped Cisco and its partners grow profitably.

Currently, she leads the strategic engagements, software, and services sales for Cisco India and SAARC, and her focus continues to be on partnering enterprises and government in their digital journey.

“A key element of that is working with ecosystems on solutions that make business outcomes possible. I have been fortunate in my career, and especially at Cisco, to have had great mentors and peers who have made my professional journey enriching and fulfilling,” she says.

Leading from the front during the pandemic

During the pandemic, along with Teslon Technologies, Daisy and her team at Cisco developed an ICU cart for primary COVID-19 treatment centres in Karnataka to enable remote monitoring of isolation wards. The ICU cart saves time, allows doctors to treat more patients, and helps keep health workers safe while providing a secure way for loved ones to support the patient.

“In April 2020, we set up a war room at the Ministry of Health, New Delhi, for GIS depiction of pandemic hotspots across India to synchronise cross-departmental efforts at containing the pandemic. The digital dashboarding efforts have now been replicated in Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Telangana, and 20 other cities of India (lockdown protocol, density monitoring, agency coordination, etc.). We have also enabled business continuity for over 200 government organisations across 26 state and central government entities and helped them stay connected and collaborate securely and seamlessly. Additionally, around 400 police stations in Telangana connected on WebEx to manage lockdown protocols,” Daisy says.

To digitally empower the farming sector in Kerala, Daisy has also helped Cisco collaborate with the Kerala State IT Mission to bring the benefits of digital technology and data science to farmers. The custom-created ADI Platform provides access to a data repository containing end-to-end farming data and farmer profiles.

Daisy says her first concern during the pandemic was providing a safe, secure and inclusive workplace for the staff. However, since 85 percent of the workforce had the option to work from home before the pandemic, there was not much readjustment required.

One of the cornerstones of her digital strategy has been the simplification of processes and tasks that affect employees, partners, and customers.

Attracting more women talent

Daisy believes that there is still a lot of room to reimagine the gender disparity in the tech industry. And, to improve the disparity, organisations need to facilitate a change in mindset.

“I genuinely believe that as the pandemic drove businesses to adopt a remote way of doing business, it has given us the opportunity to bring more women to the forefront. Diversity is needed in the tech industry, as it allows companies to create improved and innovative products that take everyone into consideration and not just one section of society. Here, organisations, especially enterprises, need to step up and take proactive measures to involve more women in STEM,” she says.

She points out that Cisco's Networking Academy has trained over 260,000+ students in India in the last 12 months, of which 30 percent are women. Additionally, its also has Women Rock-IT Program, a live-broadcast event showcasing women leaders in the tech space who can inspire more women to join the industry.

Dasiy also emphasises the need for women to network more.

“It can help women create long-term mutual relationships that can be critical to navigate their careers and help build professional relationships that can facilitate learning, idea-generation, skill-building, and more. It can also help young women who are starting their careers identify role models and mentors – like established women leaders, entrepreneurs, and investors - who could take up mentoring and guiding them to pursue careers in tech,” says.

Lack of diversity

Despite significant growth in the number of women-led startups, India was still ranked 52 out of 57 countries on the Index of Women Entrepreneurs 2019. And according to a recent study by the Reserve Bank of India, less than six percent of startups were led solely by women in 2019.

According to Daisy, the biggest reason is the challenge of maintaining a work-life balance; it becomes increasingly difficult for women to strike a balance between family and work, often leaving them exhausted and with no time for themselves.

She urges organisations to implement initiatives to encourage women to come back and join the workforce after a break, develop IT skills, and earn industry-standard certifications to promote greater female participation in the global economy.

The pandemic is building a different world filled with complexities yet brimming with opportunities. Today, the need to have diverse representation in the workplace is no longer an option but a business imperative across all industries. The key is to find the best talent and explore new possibilities for their business, hence, there is no room for any bias. There are three significant ways in which truly diverse organisations benefit over their less diverse counterparts – innovation, talent, and revenue,” she says.

To this end, she believes that true collaboration, true leadership, and true success are only possible when one values and embraces a full spectrum of diversity, be it gender, generation, race, ethnicity, orientation, ability, religion, background, culture, experience, and strengths.

As for the future, Daisy says she has never been one with a five-year plan! “But I'm always looking for ways to create impact – whether at Cisco, for our customers and partners, or in the community.”

Edited by Anju Narayanan

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